I’m new to piano and experiencing soreness in the wrist and forearm of my right hand when I play. I can’t tell whether this is “building new muscles” pain or “doing something wrong” pain.

I’m generally fine playing major triads with the 1–3–5 shape. I have more trouble with 1–4–5 chords like D7/F♯ (F♯4 C5 D5) or wider 1–3–5 chords like C/G (G4 C5 E5). I also have more trouble with chords directly in front of me like the C major triad rooted at middle C. That one is tough for me to play with either hand, but the right hand is worse.

I think the main problem here is that I’m flexing my wrist outward too far for comfort (too much ulnar flexion), and I don’t know what I need to do differently. I rarely find this in my left hand, and I don’t know whether that’s because my left hand technique/position is better, or whether it’s simply stronger and more flexible from playing bass – plus I’m left-handed.

Do I need to do something different, or do I just need to build more strength?

9 Answers 9


Pain like you describe is most probably technique. You generally do not need to contort your fingers or wrists to achieve chord positions on a piano like you do on guitar.

Have a quick look at vkgoeswild:

. The wrists are doing negligible 'ulnar flexion'.

Piano keys are quite long, as are your fingers, you don't need to press the 'ends' of the keys with all the fingers, that's just not natural.

Your finger muscles (those that wiggle your fingers) are in the forearm and the palm. I love to play a certain arpeggio-style riff gradually faster and faster until my forearm burns, just in the lactic acid sense, until I cannot bear it any further, a bit like a singer holding a note for as long as they possibly can, i.e. sadistically satisfying ha ha, a short pause and shake-out of the hand and the pain dissipates. However, this is just a stamina pain, not a permanent muscular one. On the back of the forearm. There is never any wrist pain, there is little relative movement at the wrists when playing.

Your pain sounds more like a carpal-tunnel pain. :-( I don't think it's a good idea to continue playing the way you are if this is the case. I don't think there is a 'just need to get stronger' solution to carpal-tunnel.

You should be able to play chords where the notes extend 8 white keys (octave-wide) quite comfortably, many players can span 10 white keys without really trying. Any stresses/pains spanning your hands 1 octave are something to worry about, they will affect what you can play. Remember, do not try to touch every key right on the end, some fingers can be half-way up, some fingers on some chords can be even further up, just play each key where the finger feels most natural, with as little contortion as possible.

  • Actually the soreness I'm feeling sounds a lot more like lactic acid stamina pain. It's mostly on the outside of my forearm and passes quickly once I stop aggravating it. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 18:52
  • @BraddSzonye Hmm, in which case it's good that it's not carpal tunnel, but not good that it's happening for 'playing normally' (i.e. not at ridiculous speed). You probably just need to loosen up, don't clench your fingers when making the shapes required to play the offending chords. You probably already use your hands and fingers day in day out for tasks that require more strength than playing piano, it's not something to 'tough-out' or a lack of warm up responsible for the pain. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 21:38
  • Yes, I think it's a combination of two things: First, I need to get more comfortable with playing chords where my fingers naturally fall on the keys, rather than twisting my wrist to touch closer to the ends of the keys. And second, I'm probably way too tense. The way you've described the way things should look and feel is very helpful! Especially distinguishing between stamina/tension pain and RSI pain. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 21:41
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    @BraddSzonye I just found this: pianomap.com/injuries/index.html, chapter 5 is key really, and you're lucky you've only just started and haven't been taught incorrectly or had the chance for any unnatural pain-causing movement to start to feel natural (i.e. bad habits). It sounds like your forearm pain is down to over-tensioning, and hopefully your wrist too. It recommends retraining the way you're moving because if you damage your tendons, you will have more problems than just playing the piano. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 21:47
  • I’ve been involved enough in music and sports to recognize that when something hurts, you’re either getting stronger or getting something very wrong! It’s important to figure out which is which, and I really appreciate your help in doing so. Commented Jun 14, 2014 at 0:20

If you experience soreness and pain in your wrists while playing the piano, it is ALWAYS "doing something wrong" pain. My best guess is that you are unnecessarily tensing up your wrists and holding your hands very rigidly to fit the "chord" shapes. Hold your hand above your lap and drop it like you can't control it and gravity is the only force acting upon it. That really relaxed feeling without tension should be what you are aiming for. (As a tangent: I think that you shouldn't be too preoccupied with playing chords if you're a beginner; start just doing the simple one note or two note melody pieces and the chords will come quickly as your muscle memory starts to build up. If you haven't played a keyboard instrument before, it's good to build up your flexibility by doing scales, arpeggios, A Dozen a Day exercise books :), etc., before attempting to do the harder stretches.)

Also, if you're tired, take a break-- don't keep playing. Call it a day and come back next time. Professional pianists treat wrist pain and other arm pain very seriously, for good reason: you can seriously handicap your career if you don't take care of your hands.

Echoing the other comments, if you aren't learning with a teacher but have the means to, it is worth it to take at least several lessons with one so you can learn the correct way to carry yourself and be relaxed when playing. Piano is not all about the fingers but also a lot about the way your body aligns itself, hence why it is good to have an outside perspective because we can never fully see our own hand and body posture when playing. That can help a lot to mitigate your pain while playing.


If you're experiencing pain after just starting, that's probably normal. Be sure not to push yourself too hard to really cause long term damage.

I play bass guitar and I had some times where my left wrist would start killing me... this would hurt after playing, just throughout the day. I took about a 2 week break from playing and it really helped - probably something in there needed to heal. I also am on the computer a lot and do a lot of typing - ever since I switched to an ergonomic keyboard, my wrist has been doing much better.

Before you play, make sure you warm up to avoid wrist pain. I had a teacher recommend jumping jacks, as this will just get your blood flowing everywhere and for some reason really help. If you can't do that, or its too silly or something, I would do some basic wrist stretches such as putting your arm out at a 90 degree angle and very slowly pushing your wrist against the wall, with your hand both pointing up and down. Don't put too much pressure, and don't stretch more than the angle you get when your arm is perpendicular to your body. I also tend to flail my fingers a little to get them going.

All in all, try to warm up before playing and don't push yourself too hard. In this case you should be ok.

Edit: As far as doing something wrong pain goes, make sure to pay attention to how straight your wrists are at all times. The chords right in front of you can cause some really strange angles, which can definitely cause pain. I don't play too much piano but I definitely ran into this from what I did.

  • Thanks! Regarding the edit, that’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve been paying attention to. I’m pretty sure that I’m keeping my wrists straight front-to-back, but I’m concerned that I may be flexing them too much side-to-side to fit my fingers to the keys. I’m not sure what I should be doing differently though, and I don’t (yet) have a teacher to help me sort things out. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 23:52
  • Again I only had really basic piano training, but think about pressing the top of the keys with your longer fingers, just for example, and maybe trying a different fingering that is more comfortable for you. For me, the pressing the top of the keys really allowed me to keep my wrists straight. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 23:56
  • By “top of the keys” do you mean the part closer to (or between) the black keys? Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 0:07
  • Yes! thats what I mean. Farther from your body. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 16:03
  • I downvoted this because any pain whatsoever, regardless of experience is not normal!! Stop immediately and check your technique if you experience any pain, and take breaks often enough.
    – Richard
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 2:30

I would tell you to STOP playing until your muscles feel better.

I hope you're working with a piano teacher. If not, you risk injuring yourself.

Piano players don't need to build muscle. They need to play with VERY low tension, in as relaxed a way as possible. Usually a good piano teacher will teach you the tricks.

The idea is to play VERY relaxed so you can play a long time. If you're stressing your muscles, over time they will knot up and possibly seriously injure you.

  • Thanks for the advice. I’m not experiencing any lasting soreness. I’m just finding right-hand chords very awkward to play, and after a while I need to take a break because my forearm gets sore, mostly on the ulnar side. I am not playing when it gets sore. I don’t have a teacher yet; I just started self-study about a week ago. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 0:41

Your position relative to the keyboard itself is also relevant. If you sit too high or too low, it's counterproductive. Try sitting so the bottom of your elbows are about 2/3 inches above the level of the keys. People press the keys in many different ways, but I feel that using the tips rather than the pads works better (for me, at least). You will find the best for you in time, but certainly experiment. As far as you can't reach middle C etc - move across on the stool so you are opposite the set of notes you're using. This gets awkward once you use both hands, but will save pain and discomfort now.

As ever, get a piano teacher. This gets said time and time again, and is of paramount importance.

Being a leftie will mean your right hand/arm is weaker than the other, so it needs to gradually be strengthened up. The right hand is more often used for melody lines, leaving the left to provide chords and arpeggios.

  • I am already playing with both hands, so I don't have much room to move before I cramp the left hand instead of the right. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 18:53

Watch Dorothy Taubman videos on youtube. The wrist should lead the hand. Radial and ulnar deviation of the wrist is to be avoided. If it hurts stop. Use opposite hand or alternative fingers to continue practicing. As time continues you will build up strength and endurance. Watch Lypur on Youtube on how to play piano.


In my experience, pain is usually weakness in the body, and strengthening that area can eliminate the pain. Take a look at Finger Strengthener and Hand Exerciser for Piano/Guitar Therapy on Amazon. There are lots of options for finger/hand fitness available. I got back into piano after 12 years, and it made a world of difference for me. In fact, I bought a variety of hand exercisers and all my family members play with them. Good luck!


Any pain when playing piano is your body telling you that you are doing something wrong so definitely stop and try to figure out what you are doing - there are a lot of good suggestions on this thread. I suspect you are not accessing the flexibility of your wrist going up & down to help you with playing simple chords and make sure your fingers are curved and not flat. I actually just released a video on Youtube on the 5 basic motions of piano technique that you might find informative. Quite a few beginners and teachers have commented that they found it helpful and informative:

Good luck in your quest to find the answer to your pain! Don't push through it! You will hurt yourself and maybe cause irreparable damage. Not worth it! If you can find a good piano teacher to work with, that's the best.

  • Also, don't underestimate curving your thumb too. It's amazing how much not doing so can throw off your alignment.
    – Marian Lee
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 18:26

Adding to and reiterating other good answers:

Try moving your chair/bench farther away from the keyboard, so that playing "right in front of you" in the middle of the keyboard is not awkward.

Similarly, height of your seating relative to the height of the keyboard...

Also, again, you do not have to play the ends of the keys. Unless you have hands like spatulas, your middle fingers will reach farther up on the keys. Let them do it.

Again, yes, having back, arms, and hands relaxed is important. Some popular mental images of playing involve visualizing the hands just transmitting the weight of the arm, which is just gravity.

Also, many beginners tense up the fingers that are not pressing keys, feeling somehow that this is necessary to keep them from playing when they're not supposed to. But this makes your whole hand tense, rigid, and crazy. True, when you're just beginning, your 4th and 5th fingers may not be very independent, but tensing up won't solve that... :)

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